Lead(H)er - Sara Radkiewicz, Head of Product of TVision Insights
“On paper, I had more responsibility at my corporate job, but it felt like I had a bigger impact at my first startup. I got the startup bug and from then on, I’ve been working in startups. They have their benefits and frustrations but it’s a good fit for me—fast paced, always ready for change and very close to the technology,” Sara Radkiewicz, Head of Product at TVision Insights, explained.
Growing up in a small Illinois town along the Mississippi River, Sara dreamed of getting out and continuing her education.
“It was kind of one of those smallish, not so much going on towns so I had to get out. It was a great place to grow up just not somewhere I could stay, not for me. So I went to college at the University of Notre Dame.”
Through her high school experience, she discovered she was interested in psychology and marketing, so she decided to pursue them as a double major. When she graduated, she thought she would move on to pursue her Ph.D. in psychology but she ended up getting one corporate job after another.
“Right out of college, I got a job doing software training. It was just something to do for a year to expose me to a bunch of things. Then, I really started to get into technology, so I went to work for a small company called Desktop Data. I was hired into this world that didn’t exist at 23 years old and I was kind of making it up as I went,” Sara laughed. “I would go to all of our clients and prospects and talk to them about a series of products we had.”
In order to get a more active role, Sara eventually transitioned into development and relocated to the company headquarters in Burlington, MA. Even though she didn’t have a development background, she was quickly promoted to management.
“It was great to be promoted but it was really fast and I didn’t feel like I had a strong enough technical background to continue there. I decided I needed to buckle down, go to school and get some formal technology training or find something else related to do. Around this time, one of my co-workers told me my skill set would be a great fit for a product manager role so I started looking for new opportunities.”
Right around this time, Sara’s current company was bought and a new product management positioned opened up.
“I was in product management there for five years and I got my feet wet in the big company environment. We merged again after that—we’re talking a multi-billion dollar company with tens of thousands of employees. We had a very strict process for product development, which worked for me at the time,” Sara explained.
As things started to change in the product development world, Sara wanted to move faster. Deciding to make a switch, she accepted the role as Senior Product Manager at Brightcove.
“Brightcove was a whole new world! It was amazing to go from such a large company to this startup where you get it done, take chances and if you fail, it’s okay. It was an amazing experience for me. I reported to the CTO, Bob Mason. I remember I was sitting with him at one point and I said, ‘I think I have an idea and I want to do this.’ He just looked at me, shrugged and said, ‘Why don’t you?’ Oh my gosh, I would have had to do three business cases and get approval on six different levels to do something like that with my last job. I thought it was awesome I could just go do it. I felt like I had a lot more free reign!”
During her time at Brightcove, she worked on both sides of the house, focusing on technical problems, processing data, etc. After she was there for two-and-a-half years, she moved on to Bluefin Labs where she developed a roadmap for new offerings for about a year. Then, she went on to manage the entire analytics business at Localytics, processing the data and working on the backend.
“Brightcove was my first startup, I got this bug about having an impact and wanting more impact. For me, the bigger a company gets, the harder it is to have the impact I want. I left there to go to a startup in an earlier phase and I just kept getting earlier and earlier. I want to be there from the beginning to find the product market fit and what that looks like. It’s really the hardest thing I’ve done in my career and I love the challenge. I’ve done it at two companies so far.”
After almost three years at Localytics, her former employer Bob Mason referred her to TVision Insights where he is an investor. Sara met with CEO Yan Liu and accepted the position shortly after.
“It was good timing for me, so I met with our CEO and I bought the story right away. To be good in product management, I feel like it’s best to have a passion for what you’re doing. Not just on the technology side, but on the product side too. I had a background in video and TV advertising and I was a marketing major so when I was approached by TVision Insights about the head of product role, it seemed like a great fit!”
TVision Insights measures eyes on screen attention to every second of programming and advertising on television. They collect data and provide it to advertisers and networks to help them figure out if their creative is working and being engaged with.
“I feel really honored to be working with such smart people because it makes you smarter. It’s really hard to build a strong engineering team in Boston because as a startup, you’re competing with Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. It’s really amazing that we’ve been able to do that. They have an impact here that’s bigger than those larger companies because everything that we do every day has an impact.”
Rapid Fire Questions
BS: What do you like to do in your free time?
SR: I’m a runner and I’m also a yogie. I like anything outside really. I hike, I kayak and get outside to enjoy the weather. If I can do it with my dog, that’s even better! I didn’t start skiing until I was an adult but I also love heading up to the mountains. I go blue square all the way but that gives me the adrenaline rush— I love it. I get passed by the four-year-olds all the time!
BS: How do you manage stress?
SR: Running. Interestingly enough for the past five years, I’ve been on-and-off with injuries and I signed up for three marathons but couldn’t run them. The fourth one’s a charm! I signed up for Boston’s so let’s hope that it works out. I’ve found there’s a big difference in my personality when I run versus when I’m injured and can’t run because that’s how I manage stress. It is also why I’ve recently got into yoga and meditation.
BS: How many cups of coffee do you typically drink a day?
SR: I don’t drink coffee but I drink tea. I drink hot tea, iced tea, caffeinated peppermint tea all day long just not chai tea.
BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?
SR: The Middlesex Fells Reservation. I can go hike, I can go run, I can take my dog. It’s so close to the city but you can get away and realize that you’re in the woods.
BS: If you had to choose one thing other than family, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
SR: I think it would be the work that I’ve done in a program similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters at a school called Germaine Lawrence in Arlington. It was hard, it was emotionally draining but I think I made a difference in one person’s life. It was a school for girls who had different kinds of issues. They lived there and they just really worked to rehabilitate them. I don’t think it’s still there, this was years ago.
BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?
SR: No, I think ten years ago I still thought I’d go back into psychology. Tough to say, but I certainly wouldn’t have thought that I’d be in small startups. I was afraid of small startups then. I surprised myself.
BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?
SR: I’m going to steal this from a quote I’ve seen on the internet. Do something that scares you every day. Maybe not every day, but often. I think back and everything that was worth doing—the work I did at Germaine Lawrence, the startup jobs, getting into companies where I wasn’t sure what I was doing—those all scared me but they all led to something great. Don’t be afraid of fear.
Images courtesy of Sara Radkiewicz.
Disclosure - Keith Cline, Founder of VentureFizz, is an angel investor in TVision Insights.